I just want to say, this was a long time coming! I pre-ordered Cemetery Boys, got way too busy with blog tours, realized I could borrow the audiobook on Libby, and decided I would just wait my turn for that. Libby says I returned the audiobook on Dec 7th so we’ll go with that as the read date. One of these days I will actually re-read this book with my eyeballs, but it’s already a full 5 stars from me, so there will be no need for an update.
About the Book
by Aiden Thomas
Published 1 September 2020
by Swoon Reads
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy, LGBTQIA
Page Count: 352
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Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
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My Rating: 5 Stars
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Cemetery Boys is the story of a young trans brujo named Yadriel who wants to prove to his very traditional, religious Latinx family that his identity does not preclude participation in his family’s religious practices. His friends have helped him become a brujo on the sly and now he wants to release a spirit to prove his validity as a brujo. The problem? Ghost Julian won’t leave!
There are so many layers to the lessons and themes in this book. Yadriel is learning that he doesn’t need to prove himself to anybody, he’s valid just the way he is, and when he learns to present himself with confidence and demand that the world accepts who he is, the world will. Julian is learning to trust, to let others in, and to love selflessly. He’s learning what he has, what he had, and what he doesn’t want to lose. Yadriel’s best friend Maritza learns that some sacrifices are worth making, and some are possible to work around. Yadriel’s father is learning to accept his son completely.
This story is full of compassion for those living difficult lives, whose basic needs are not being met, or whose families have cast them out. LGBTQIA issues are at the forefront, obviously, as we’re dealing with a gay trans boy as a protagonist, but we’re also dealing with race, poverty, religious oppression, broken families, and plain old high school bullying. I think I would have to re-read this book several times over to catch all the wonderful lessons, big and small, on offer in pages. No matter how woke or uptight you are coming into this book, you’ll learn something.
The love story here is beautifully heartbreaking, as Yadriel and Julian fall for each other while both also coming to grips with the fact that Julian is a ghost due to be released and never seen again in this world. The more they fall for each other, the more Yadriel dreads that deadline releases Julian, the more I wanted to sob uncontrollably on his behalf. Without giving spoilers, I’ll just say that the way this plot point comes to an end is masterfully written with such a powerful mix of emotions.
I really appreciate how intricately accurate this book is when it comes to portraying the family relationships for Yadriel. Nobody has turned him out, he’s not shunned from the family, and some embrace him as a boy without any reservations at all. But some have reservations, and many slip in how they speak to Yadriel. His grandmother reminds him that he’ll always be her little girl, which was no doubt meant with loving-kindness, but it’s that sort of little sentiments expressed by loved ones that cut deepest. Those moments are more emotionally damaging than things like Yadriel’s father dismissing the idea that he can be a brujo rather than a bruja while still supporting him in every other aspect of their lives. The latter is someone who hasn’t reconciled religious tradition with his son’s truth. The former is someone who thinks she has embraced her grandson completely and doesn’t realize she’s hurting him. That’s the reality of being a part of the LGBTQIA community.
I love the way Julian is completely stripped down from walled-off misunderstood bad boy to the sweet, playful, hurt boy he is. I love how we get to see all the very valid reasons for his anger and see him start to be willing to control it for once, for the sake of others. I love how selflessly he cares for his friends from equally terrible situations, and how they’ve become his little found family. His situation reminded me of The Outsiders, but take away the whiteness and the hippie joke names and insert layers of real oppression on top of the misunderstood younger brother orphan story. You know what? This is the new The Outsiders. Put this on the middle school reading lists instead!
On top of all the wonderful character-driven elements to this book, we get magical realism and paranormal fantasy in the form of Brujaria traditions and magic as Día de los Muertos approaches and Yadriel’s community prepares to welcome back the spirits deceased of brujos and brujas. I’m a sucker for anything fantasy, but particularly anything that’s either paranormal or elemental, and this book absolutely delivered.
I did mention at the beginning that I ended up listening to the audiobook, and I wanted to say that the narrator’s performance was spectacular, and I very much appreciated that we got to experience the correct accent, pronunciations, etc. for the Spanish language elements and for these Latinx characters, but it was done carefully enough that those of us listening who aren’t super familiar with the accent don’t get lost. Nothing gets too fast or too thickly accented for a typical anglophone listener. There’s an interview between the author, Aiden Thomas, and the narrator at the end, and I also found it cute and interesting that the narrator pronounces all of the Latinx names with Spanish sounds even in cases where Aiden doesn’t. So if you’re reading this for yourself rather than listening, don’t feel bad about anglicizing your pronunciation of Julian. Both are clearly acceptable!
I’m looking forward to more amazing books from Aiden Thomas in the future, and I’m so glad I finally got to read this one.
About the Author
Aiden Thomas is a New York Times Bestselling Author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, useless trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.
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